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Brain Injuries

The Frequency of Diagnosis Errors

How do physicians make diagnosis errors?

Mistakes in diagnosis occur when a healthcare provider fails to properly diagnose a condition or set of symptoms. Serious undiagnosed conditions worsen over time, eventually becoming apparent when the time for less invasive treatment has passed.

Healthcare providers often use a differential diagnosis procedure–a diagnostic decision tree based on probabilities and presenting symptoms. While experience levels vary between physicians, all doctors are charged with using reasonable care that reflects their area of practice and specialties.

When a physician misses diagnosing a serious condition, it may signal that he or she failed to gather appropriate information about the patient from a personal history, questioning, examination or medical testing.

Diagnosis errors also result from improperly performed or interpreted tests. While a physician may have correctly identified and tested for a concern, a radiologist may mistakenly rule it out, causing the physician to arrive at a misdiagnosis.

How often do misdiagnoses occur?

Findings published in 2012 indicate that malpractice is a serious issue internationally and that among developed countries, as many as 15 percent of all medical cases are misdiagnosed. In the United States, out of the $2.7 trillion Americans spend on healthcare every year, almost one-third ends up being wasted on misdiagnosis.

According to a recently published study, medical malpractice cases in the U.S. caused by misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose are more common than you might think. In fact, in the 25 years during which the study took place (1986 to 2010), 35 percent of the payouts in medical malpractice claims were in cases of misdiagnosis. Based on these data, the researchers estimated as many as 160,000 misdiagnosis-related claims occur annually.

For more information on misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose, consult a medical malpractice attorney in Chicago.

Happens all the Time–The Dangers of Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis is a serious medical error that can have lifelong or even fatal consequences. While even the most diligent doctors can make mistakes, they are expected to meet a certain standard of care when treating patients. A physician could be found negligent and guilty of medical malpractice on the basis of misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose if he is she fails to identify telltale signs of a condition and the patient suffers unnecessary injury, illness or pain.

Examples of some of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions include the following:

  • GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is characterized by symptoms such as acid regurgitation, heartburn, chest pain or tightness, bad breath or taste in the mouth and trouble breathing or swallowing. However, these symptoms could be mistaken for simple indigestion (dyspepsia), a cow's milk allergy (particularly in infants), panic attacks, a stomach ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Similarly, sometimes conditions are diagnosed as GERD when they are, in fact, more serious, such as a heart attack or a bacterial infection.
  • Stroke – A stroke is a serious emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Its symptoms include blurred vision, headache, numbness on one side, dizziness or imbalance, slurred speech and sudden lack of muscle control. These symptoms can often be wrongly diagnosed as vertigo, an inner-ear disorder or a migraine.
  • Cancer – Lung cancer is often misdiagnosed as COPD or bronchitis, pancreatic cancer is often misdiagnosed as pancreatitis or liver failure, colon or colorectal cancer is often misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids and bladder cancer is often misdiagnosed as kidney stones or a urinary tract infection.
  • Heart attack – Symptoms of a heart attack include chest tightness or pain, fatigue, trouble breathing an heart palpitations. While heart attacks are often recognized, they can also be misdiagnosed as stress, acid reflux or a panic attack.

If you or a loved one were misdiagnosed and suffered unnecessarily as a result, consult a lawyer in Chicago.